February 3, 2009 11:50 pm

Democrat aims to free up online gaming

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A top US Democrat is launching an offensive to roll back legislation against online gambling passed under the Bush administration, saying the climate is ripe for Congress to unlock restraints that are “impinging” on the freedom of Americans.

Barney Frank, chairman of the House financial services committee, told the Financial Times he would reintroduce a bill in the next few weeks to establish a licensing and regulatory framework for online gambling operators.

Mr Frank said he also expected anti-gambling regulations, rushed through in the dying weeks of the Bush administration, to be included among the measures Congress will look to rescind.

A Democrat-led Congress and a more liberal political climate is persuading the Massachusetts congressman to make his twin-pronged assault on an issue that he said bore similarities to prohibition in the 1920s and 30s.

Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, which tightened the laws against online gambling, forcing the exodus of listed companies operating in the US. At the same time, the Department of Justice began to arrest executives of some of these companies at airports and put them in court.

Mr Frank said: “I expect an Obama DoJ to be less zealous about locking people up. These outrageous arrests in transit – they should be stopping that stuff.”

The UIGEA regulations, which make it illegal for financial institutions to process online gambling transactions, became final on January 19, but do not need to be implemented until December.

Mr Frank said the prospects for his bill, which was discussed in the last session of Congress but never voted on, were greater because public opinion was demanding the right to gamble online.

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